The sky was the colour of a musk stick, all pink and sugary. It was getting darker earlier, and the sunset had started to coincide with Charlotte’s walk home. Craning her neck, the clouds looked like fairy floss. She began to mentally raid the fridge. Nothing was there except for garlic, half an apple, and cheap beer. Not even Gordon Ramsay could turn that into a meal. Concentrating on the sky instead, she focused her gaze on its darker edges, and saw a star come into view. When she was younger, she thought it was magic. It still had that thrill to it.
The five flights of stairs up to her apartment had the burn of intense cardio exercise, without ever resulting in abs. Opening the front door took an equal amount of effort. Pulling on it slightly to the left, turning the key with a deft flick of the wrist, and a last little kick in the bottom right-hand corner was a daily ritual. Finally in the house, Charlotte dumped her keys next to the record player, knowing if she carried them any further she’d put them down and never find them again. After some fiddling with the turntable, Debussy started to play through the house. Tripping over a stack of books, she made her way past the bedroom and into the kitchen, putting on the kettle and popping down some toast. Tonight’s meal would be an old staple, tea and Vegemite. Filling up a jug, she watered the plants that were verging on taking over her apartment. It was a small place, but fulfilled every interior dream she’d had, even from that young age of drawing her future home with crayons for her mum to put up on the fridge. Hardwood floors, white walls and high ceilings. But the dream apartment of a 5-year old girl come at a price, and with old charm comes a myriad of electrical, plumbing and spacial problems.
Munching on her toast, Charlotte checked her phone, which she’d found wedged in between the cushions of the lounge. It’d been a whole day without it, and she wondered what social enquiries she’d missed.
Messages: Mum (1)
Email: Work – why are you late again?
She considered putting it back where she found it. It would probably be better utilised there, could even buy a home phone to call it and make a massage chair. She looked around her apartment, trying to fight the feeling that was starting behind her eyes. God, she loved this place. She was proud of what she’d created, furniture sourced from council clean-ups and Salvos store’s. An Ikea lounge, the one brand-new thing, the result of a particulary giving End Of Financial Year. Plants and books scattered around, and prints on the wall from when she’d attempted a Fine Arts degree. The kettle began to whistle. As she poured a tea for herself, always just herself, the feeling behind her eyes began to settle.
She knew who she wanted to be. She wanted to be someone nicer, kinder, softer, brighter. And while maybe she was a combination of all those things, somewhere between her head and heart it got confused. Never finding the perfect way to meld all the different aspects of her personality together, she felt just not pretty enough, just not funny enough, just not smart enough. Everything, but not enough of anything. Grabbing her tea, she flicked off the lights and headed to her room. Maybe Netflix in bed would do her some good.
The sound of her phone vibrating itself off her bedside table and onto the floor was what woke Charlotte.
“Hello?” she answered, still admiring the back of her eyelids.
“Lottie, where are you? We’re supposed to be meeting for breakfast.” It was her best friend Winnie. They’d been friends since school, when they’d bonded over a mutual hatred of the show the Big Bang Theory. Nothing brings people together like a common dislike.
“Yeah, I’m on my way there, calm down.”
“Lottie, I’m outside your apartment. I’m parked in front of you. We were carpooling remember. I know you better than that. So hurry up and get down here.”
“My bad. I’ll be down in five.”
She rolled out of bed and onto the floor. She was glad she’d been lazy and not removed her makeup from yesterday. Wiping under her eyes to get rid of any unwanted smudges, she pulled on a pair of jeans and spritzed her hair with dry shampoo. Checking her appearance in the mirror, she looked like someone who had given up on surface appearances, paired with a hint of 15-year old boy. The perfect combination.
“I got ready as fast as I could,” she said, getting into the car.
Winnie gave her a once over. “I can tell.”
“Oh, just shut up and drive.”
Winnie laughed. “Put on some music if you’d like. Though none of that music without words that you like.”
“Maybe I’ll just listen to the delightful sound of you insulting me the whole way there.”
Charlotte looked over at her friend. She was gorgeous. The kind of girl that looked worse with makeup. Adding to that, she was kind, intelligent and quick-witted. Too quick-witted sometimes, she had a penchant for insulting Charlotte. “I’m just keeping you humble”, she’d say. Her boyfriend was much the same. They all got along, but Charlotte often felt like she was more their kid than their friend, their being so far ahead of her in life.
“So how have you been?”, Winnie asked. They’d ordered their breakfast, and were sitting in the corner of their favourite café, both facing out for maximum people-watching potential.
Charlotte laughed, and began to doodle on a napkin. “I’ve been good. You know how things are.”
“No, not really.” Winnie’s phone beeped. It was a message from her boyfriend.
God, I love you.
Charlotte checked her watch. It was 10.27AM. What was it like, getting messages like that, in the day. Knowing they’re not sent with the aid of too many beers, or with something other than love on the mind.
Sending back a quick reply, Winnie looked at her. “Are you sure? You seem sad.”
Charlotte sighed, wishing her eagerness for company wasn’t so obvious. “I’m just tired. You know how it is. Work, classes, laundry.” Tiredness was so much easier to explain. That, and she didn’t know how to make, “my heart breaks at the end of every day, knowing that I’m still not who I want to be”, sound not pathetic. Not desperate. She wondered if people could explode from feeling this way. Or would they slowly deflate, crushed from the weight of things left unsaid. “Yeah, I think I’m just tired.”
Winnie’s response was stifled by the arrival of the waiter, but the look in her eyes made Charlotte nervous. She was in for a lecture.
“Who had the pancakes?” The waiter had to be one of the most beautiful men Charlotte had ever seen. She’d recently discovered the secret to making cute men appear: look like you haven’t showered in a week, and are surviving only on toast and beer. Today was no exception. They’d met at a wedding a couple of weekends before, but she’d long learnt not to expect remembrance.
“With the chocolate chips? That would be mine”. Charlotte smiled at the waiter, for a second longer than normal. She heard Winnie giggle, then try to mask it with a cough. Someone else would be getting a lecture now.
“Hey, that’s a good idea. I’ll have to try that on my lunch break.”
“She’s full of good ideas, this one”, Winnie said with a smirk. Charlotte elbowed her under the table.
“She seems to. Actually, have we met before? Your face seems more familiar to me than just a regular customer. At a wedding right?”
“You know, I think we might have.” Charlotte remembered the moment with perfect clarity. She’d replayed the moment over and over, choosing different things to say, wondering which one would have been the right response, the best possible combination of words to make her seem perfect to him.
“And what was your name again? Claire?”
“Charlotte. Lottie for short. And this is my friend Winnie.” Damn politeness. It was never smart to introduce Winnie to a potential male. She wished Winnie’s boyfriend would propose, so she’d have to wear that beautiful diamond ring that reads, don’t bother.
“Well, it’s nice to see you again. I’m Will.”
Back in her apartment, the midday sun was coming through at the perfect angle, lighting up the floors and making the whole space golden with reflected light. Sipping on a cup of tea, Charlotte examined her arm, which Will had squeezed in farewell as they left the café. She wondered if it would ever reach the point where her skin wouldn’t burn at the touch of someone else. If one day it would be so natural that she wouldn’t feel it anymore.
Rifling around, she found her phone in between her pillows, misplaced after this morning’s hasty exit.
Facebook Message (1) – Hey, it’s Will from the café. Would you like to get some chocolate breakfast food together sometime?
Charlotte checked her arm again. She was sure his touch had left a scar, a mark that would signify nothing if not the simple fact that it’s not kissing or sex or sneaking out that she’d warn her daughters about. It’s the boy they find beautiful touching their arm that will end them.